Travel: Arusha

While some students here at UCSD may yearn for the typical ease of summer vacation, and may seek travel locations during their break that assist their escape from the rigors of college life, others seek adventure and satisfaction at the price of sacrifice. Some will abandon dreams of sunny beaches or plush hotel rooms in order to serve the global community. These students will face one of the scariest epidemics on our planet, AIDS, head on in the place where AIDS is literally everywhere, Africa.

These students will be a part of the Arusha Project, which sends students to Arusha, Tanzania to volunteer in schools, hospitals and clinics. The project, according to its Web site, addresses gender equality and sexual health and exposes students to these issues through hands-on experience in the global community.

Stephanie Moody-Geissler, a senior from Revelle College, went to Tanzania last year with the project, and with the chancellor’s research scholarship for $3,000, to look at the availability of antiretroviral drugs to the women of the area. The experience changed her career ambitions drastically.

Moody-Geissler wanted to be a forensic pathologist since she was about 8 years old, but the trip made changed her focus to public health and HIV across the world. While in Arusha, Moody-Geissler volunteered in the testing clinic of the district hospital, where she would sit in on counseling sessions, administer tests and do other assorted odds and ends.

“”Three days before I left, they just got their first computer,”” she said. “”They looked at me, and they said ‘You set this up.’””

Moody-Geissler will return with the project this year for another trip.

Giving up the easy live to volunteer in far-off places, like Arusha, does have its rewards. Ryan Shepherd, a Sixth College junior who also participated in the program last year, gladly soaked up the culture and enjoyed the local ways.

“”In their language, they call everyone brother, father, mother,”” he said. “”I was always kaka Ryan, which means ‘brother Ryan.’””

Shepard was placed at a preschool to teach English, often in the form of song (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was a favorite). He enjoyed how the locals would talk to him on the street with sincere interest – ‘what’s the news’ is the greeting of choice, as a simple ‘hello’ does not exist in Swahili.

Most of the students, like Rachel Keeler, a Sixth College senior, say that volunteering in a place like Tanzania trumps tourism any day. Keeler, who studied in Spain prior to going to Arusha, says that just visiting a place will give a traveler only a superficial experience.

“”It’s completely different if you live in the place and work with the people,”” she said. “”It’s such a better way to get to know a place.””

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